A great deal has happened in the lives of the Runaways since last we left them. The temporally displaced Geoffrey Wilder hatched a plan to return the Gibborim to power. He was thwarted, but Gert Yourkes was killed. Gert's death threw Chase off the deep-end and not even an ill-timed Civil War crossover with the Young Avengers could stop him offering himself as a sacrifice to the Gibborim, in return for Gert's resurrection. Suffice to say it didn't work. The team of Runaways now consists of Nico Minoru, Chase Stein (and Old Lace), Molly Hayes, Victor Mancha as well as the recently earthbound Karolina Dean and Xavin. However, back at their headquarters they were ambushed by Iron Man and a squad of SHIELD capekillers. In keeping with their idiom they ran away again... and now they have come to New York.
The issue opens with a handy recap of the nature of the Pride as well as the powers and abilities of the current line-up of Runaways. This recap is in the form of a dossier being related to the Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin of Crime. The Kingpin has been approached by the Runaways for help, and he is more than happy to see what they want. Spider-Man appears in a single panel during this flashback, which is all you will see of him this issue.
At a swanky high-rise restaurant, the Runaways wait for the Kingpin to arrive. Victor believes meeting Fisk is a mistake. Karolina feels uncomfortable that her skrull lover, Xavin, has taken a male form. Chase is checking out a woman he is convinced is the She-Hulk. They do not show a united front.
Nico attempts to bluff Fisk, telling him that the Runaways are the new Pride and that she is dealing form a position of power. Fisk sees through this in an instant, and quickly wrong foots the youngsters. They want a favour to stay one step ahead of SHIELD. He will provide that favour if they do something for him in return. But even Fisk is unaware that the group is being observed through the window by an unknown assailant.
After the meeting the Runaways argue the ramifications of working for Fisk. However, it is a deal they cannot back out of it. Nico feels that she failed as the leader of the team.
Next we cut to a wheel-chair bound woman of advancing years. She is talking to an enormously well-muscled man whose features are hidden in the shadows. She regrets many things that have happened in her life, but the man is attempting to remain positive: "The children will come," he says. "They will play their part - oblivious, just like Fisk." The woman believes that this will give her a second chance, she calls the hulking figure her angel.
Back with the Runaways, Nico has ventured up onto the roof of a skyscraper to be alone with her recriminations. Karolina joins her to offer friendship and support. Talk turns from the mission to Xavin. Does Karolina see the real Xavin, or did the skrull just take a female form to convince Karolina to be his bride? Nico's questions shock Karolina. They are not appropriate. She carried a torch for Nico for months, and Nico made it perfectly clear that she wasn't interested. Hurt and puzzled, Karolina flies away leaving Nico even more depressed.
A little while later the Runaways are on their mission. Chase lands their craft (rather awkwardly) on the roof of a skyscraper overlooking their destination. If takes a while to work out, but eventually Xavin creates an invisible bridge for the runaways to cross. Once on the other side, Victor destroys the security systems and the group find their way to a vault. Inside is something that Fisk wants them to steal.
On the roof-top, Chase and Old Lace are keeping watch. Old Lace spots someone on an adjacent building. At the last minute, Chase realises that someone has launched a missile at their location. Chase and the dinosaur dive off the roof, as fire erupts behind them. Old Lace grabs Chase in its mouth, and grips onto the side of the building, saving the lad's life.
The explosion starts a fire inside. The other runaways have obtained a small artefact from the vault, and now burst their way out and onto a near by rooftop. However, they have been seen. The assailant with the rocket launcher turns out to be a very familiar face indeed: it is the Punisher! But it is not the Punisher that makes the group stand and gape in fear despite his dual machine pistols. Hovering behind him is an enormous angel with mechanical wings, who is about to cut the Punisher down with his oversized sword.
After forty-two issues of inspired brilliance, Brian K Vaughan and Adrian Alphona bade farewell to the Runaways last issue. It was very sad to see the creators go, and many were worried that no-one could do these characters the justice that they so obviously deserved. Enter Joss Whedon.
Joss Whedon's pedigree at writing these types of characters is unimpeachable. He is the very definition of a "safe pair of hands" for this title. His characterisation is spot on, the drama and comedy is perfectly balanced. Juxtapose the conversation between Nico and Karolina on one-hand, with Molly 'disguising' herself with a fishnet stocking on the other. Fabulous. Forget Buffy: this is the comic Whedon was born to write.
This is the opening shot in a six-issue arc, so it's difficult to judge where Whedon's taking this. However, he has overcome the glacial pacing issues that dog his current run on Astonishing X-Men. There's more than enough happening here to pique my interest and make me impatient for the next issue.
The art is slightly less to my taste than the writing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but after seeing the characters portrayed by Alphona for so long, it's going to take a little time for a new artist to bed in. This is my problem, not the artist's. So if you're picking up Runaways for the first time with this issue, then it's hardly a criticism.
Whedon is only with this title for six issues, and on balance I think that is a good thing. Runaways is such an exciting book because of its unpredictability. Under Vaughan and Alphona the status quo never lasted for more than a couple of issues. Whedon is a self-declared fan of the series. Holding his X-Men run as evidence, I doubt that he could be ruthless enough to keep this series fresh and vital in the long term. However, that is not to detract from the short term goodness that this arc will provide.
Far more than a good story, the best thing Whedon is bringing to this title is numbers. Twice as many copies of this issue were sold than the one that preceded it. Runaways has always deserved numbers like these; hopefully a goodly proportion of these new readers will stay on after issue #30.
Absolutely brilliant, but I know in my heart it can be even better than this. Four and a half webs.